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My book swag

A few days ago, I received this wonderful surprise in the post from my publisher, Kristell Ink: five paperback copies of my novel, Children of the Shaman, and one hardback!

I am so excited about these I can’t say. Nothing beats having a hard copy of your book to hold. I’ve been wanting to post these photos for ages. I’ve said it before, but huge thanks to everyone at Kristell Ink.

This one not only has cover art by Daniele Serra but wonderful internal illustrations by Evelinn Enoksen, who has captured both the atmosphere of the book and the appearance of the characters really well.


Skoryk, Parajanov and the Carpathian connection

A lot of authors have a soundtrack for their work. Often it’s the music they were listening to when they were writing a particular passage. Recently, I contributed to a thread in a Facebook group where writers were sharing what they listened to when writing, and what might also be the soundtrack to their novels.

It started me thinking. Music has formed an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. My sister is a musician and used to compose as well, so her songs were a soundtrack for me when I was growing up. My Dad loved trad Jazz, folk songs and sea shanties, and later on Klezmer music. My Mum loved opera, and classical music generally.

So I can’t imagine life without music. And all of my books have their own soundtrack, one that has contributed to the writing and underlies some of the scenes.

I thought I’d start an occasional series, writing about the tracks that have inspired me. I’d love to hear from other writers who do the same or similar things. My tastes in music are eclectic, so this is going to be a wide-ranging thread. I love everything from Classical to Pop, in fact it would probably be easier to list the things I don’t like.

Okay, so who are Skoryk and Parajanov, and what’s the Carpathian Connection?

Sergei Parajanov was an Armenian film director from Georgia, who made a number of famous art-house films. One of his first movies, Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors, was a tale of love, death and magic set in the world of the Hutsul (ethnic Ukrainian) people of Carpathia. His other films include The Colour of Pomegranates and Legend of the Suram Fortress.

I became obsessed with the soundtrack, but for years I could not find out who composed it. After poking around on the internet, I finally discovered that the composer was Myroslav Skoryk (thank you, IMDb). And that there was a CD of his work available from Naxos, which included a work of 1965 called the “Hutsul Triptych”. It proved to be a suite featuring music from the film…

One piece, called “Dytynstvo”, which means “Childhood” was my favourite. I played it again and again. I first heard it in about 1990, at a time when I was unwell. I find it utterly compelling.

I rediscovered the tune and the composer two to three years ago, when I was writing Winterbloom, my fourth book. The most recent outing was in a playlist I made in September 2016.

I think the music for me is evocative of a place. There have been some amazing photos of the Carpathian Mountains, the landscape that appears in Paradjanov’s film; and as the theme of the Greenwood became more important throughout Winterbloom, I also became fascinated by the Bialowieza Forest in Eastern Poland, a tract of woodland that has remained relatively unchanged for centuries.

The tunes by Skoryk are melancholy and haunting, full of regret and nostalgia for a lost time and place. But the piece called “Childhood” also evokes energy and excitement; the children in the film are running away from a witch into the sunlit forest.

I think when I’m writing, I want to capture that haunting quality. An awful lot of the themes in my shaman series are about guilt, regretting what you did in the past, and how the past overshadows the present. Perhaps the most important theme concerns two girls who attempt to cast a spell for a simple and compelling reason. The spell goes wrong, with disastrous consequences; and that’s the main engine of all the books in the series.

My new short story from Patreon

As you may know, Grimbold Books are running a Patreon, and subscribers get exclusive content from their authors, together with art from Josh Cornah and Sophie Tallis.

So far this month alone we’ve had the regular comic strip Grim and Bold, a short story by Kate Coe set in her GreenSky series universe, a link to purchase cool Lovecraftian fantasy shirts in celebration of the anthology being published at the end of the month, and a session of regular podcast The Grimcast with hosts Zoe Harris, Allan Bot, and Joel Cornah, and special guests Claire Ayres from brizzlelassbooks and Thomas Wagner from SFF180.

All this content is exclusively available to subscribers at various levels: for $2 a month, you get The Grimbold Newsletter, featuring news, writing tips, and the Grim and Bold comic strip.

For $5 or more a month you get all the previous rewards plus…Hall of fame:
they can promote you or your project every week, or you can have your name in shiny letters on the website.

And for $7 or more you get the previous rewards plus exclusive interviews with published authors, short stories, and previews of new books.

And so onward and upwards!

On 17th May, they released my exclusive short story Theodora’s Chance, which features one of the most important characters in my forthcoming novel Winterbloom. Unusually for me, the story is set in this world, in England, just after the First World War.

Here’s a teaser:

The house where they grew up was called Wraxall; it had been built by their grandfather, who made his fortune from guano. His Anglican piety and fondness for Gothic architecture had produced a mansion that resembled Notre Dame crossed with St Pancras Station. It had pinnacles, turrets and tiled roofs; the only vernacular touch was the golden limestone from which it was built. In the new Edwardian era, it already seemed excessive, even vulgar in its grandiosity.

Interested? Why not subscribe and read this and much more exclusive content. If you follow this link, you can read much more about Grimbold Books and their authors, and the work your subscription will support…

Grimbold Books is a fledgling international (small and independent) publishing house looking to publish the very best science fiction, fantasy and dark fiction.

The Black Pilgrimage to Chorazin

This blog is indebted to an article called The Black Pilgrimage by Rosemary Pardoe and Jane Nicholls, originally published in Ghosts & Scholars 26 and available to read online here.

I’ve always been a great fan of the ghost story writer Montague Rhodes James,  known as M.R. James, who was Provost of King’s College Cambridge many years before I was a student there. His portrait hung, and may still hang, in the Hall, looking down on the diners with a quizzical eye.

From my teens, I was thrilled and terrified by his short stories, in which sudden death and retribution are dealt out with equal harshness to the guilty and the unlucky. It was some years before I detected the dry humour in his writing.

One of my favourite stories is Count Magnus, in which unfortunate scholar, Mr Wraxall, manages to waken the long-dead Count and his terrible servant from their slumbers. Once the deed is done, he is doomed, and he knows it. His fate is so horrible that at the inquest seven of the jurors who view his body faint, and the verdict is “visitation of God”. (James says that Wraxall was “near being a Fellow of his college at Oxford — Brasenose” which leaves one suspecting a subtle jibe from someone who was definitely a fellow of a Cambridge college).

It is a story about overweening curiosity. Wraxall visits the Count’s mausoleum and utters aloud a wish to see the Count. Three times he feels compelled to return, and each time one of the padlocks on the Count’s sarcophagus opens. (That the sarcophagus is padlocked is a telling detail).

It is a terrifying story for anyone with OCD because after his first visit, Wraxall finds that he can’t help himself; he is compelled to call up the Count’s malign spirit.

Earlier in the story, when Wraxall is conducting his research into the archives at the Count’s manor at Råbäck in Sweden, he comes across a paper written by the Count himself, describing how to obtain the services of a demon – or something more nameless:

‘If any man desires to obtain a long life, if he would obtain a faithful messenger and see the blood of his enemies, it is necessary that he should first go into the city of Chorazin, and there salute the prince…’ Here there was an erasure of one word, not very thoroughly done, so that Mr Wraxall felt pretty sure that he was right in reading it as aëris (‘of the air’).

Part of the pleasure of these narratives derives from the blend of scholarly detail with extreme terror. Mr Wraxall is in some ways an innocent victim. The reader learns that the extract comes from a book called Liber nigrae peregrinationis, which means “Book of the Black Pilgrimage”.

From my point of view, the name Chorazin stuck in my mind, and when I came to write Children of the Shaman, I used it as the name of the Wanderer city attacked by the Doyen of Ademar, an intemperate local noble, and transported to the underworld by miraculous means. (In my parallel world, the Wanderers are cognate with the Jews).

When the book was published, a friend and fellow Jamesian argued with me, saying  the name Chorazin was misleading, because if you follow the implication of Count Magnus, the city itself must be a place of evil. I disagreed, conscious that I knew nothing about the derivation of the name. Later on, I thought it must refer to the city of Khorasan or Khurasan, one of the sources of the Babylonian Talmud. (The Jews of Afghanistan) As a Talmudic scholar, James would have known of Khorasan, and I assumed Chorazin was a version of that name.

However, when I read the article by Rosemary Pardoe and Jane Nicholls on the Black Pilgrimage, I discovered that Chorazin was one of three cities rebuked by Jesus, together with Bethsaida and Capernaum. Here is part of the relevant passage from Matthew xi, 21-24, quoted in Pardoe and Nicholls:

“Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you…”

According to later tradition, the Anti-Christ was to be born in Chorazin.Hence the reference to “The Prince of the Air” in James.

Pardoe and Nicholls go on to discuss whether James was thinking of a physical or spiritual pilgrimage. The implication of the story, sadly for the hapless Mr Wraxall, is that not only did the Count go on the Black Pilgrimage but obtained a servant to wreak his revenge on those who offended him. And though dead, he was not at peace, as Wraxall learned when talking to the landlord of the inn where he was staying. The landlord told him how ninety-two years ago, two men trespassed on the Count’s lands, long after the Count himself was dead. They were warned against it in chilling terms:

“No, do not go; we are sure you will meet with persons walking who should not be walking. They should be resting, not walking.”

The two men ignore the warnings, and meet a horrible fate.

I’m not as well acquainted with the New Testament as James would have been, and I did not know about the cursed cities when I was writing Children of the Shaman. In my novel the Wanderers, some of whom inhabit Chorazin, are a cursed people; the Mother-Goddess, Megalmayar, has cursed them to wander the earth since the death of her Son, even though they were not to blame.

(This refers to the fact that the Jews were held responsible for the death of Christ, until the Second Vatican Council repudiated the belief in collective Jewish guilt: Wikipedia)

In Children of the Shaman, Chorazin gets stuck in the underworld. In my most recent novel, Winterbloom, it has become a haunt for ghosts and spirits of all kinds after nightfall. Several of the characters, some of whom are spirits, end up staying at an inn designed for ghostly or demonic clientele, where they are summoned into the presence of Magus Kaschai the Deathless, who is holding court in one of the private rooms, like a Mafia godfather.

Though the city is called Chorazin, it is not meant to be demonic in itself. The reference started out as a joke, and later seemed appropriate because of the place’s chthonic associations (rather than its “Tartarean origin” to quote James).

I’ll end with a short extract from Winterbloom, in which two of the characters unwisely decide to leave the inn where they are staying in Chorazin in the middle of the night…

The stone staircase descended between two plain plaster walls. Though the inn showed traces of former opulence, this narrow stair came from an older, more modest building. Dakker felt a lingering curiosity as he crept down the steps, following his friend. He wondered about the city whose name was Chorazin, and how it would appear in daylight. And he wondered what this inn had been and what its history was, before it had become an abode of the dead – and other creatures.

There was a soft sound, like a bundle of clothes falling to the ground. Dakker cried out as a dark mass dropped from the stairwell above and engulfed El Shur. His head and shoulders were hidden under a black pall. It looked as if someone had emptied a bucket of darkness over him.

Without looking up, Dakker sensed rather than heard slithering as another prepared to drop on him. He made a desperate lunge towards El Shur and shoved him hard so his friend fell down the last few steps, rolled up in his cloak and the black mass that had covered the upper part of his body.

Dakker sprang after him, and felt the whoosh of air as the thing that fell from the ceiling above missed him. Its passage knocked off his helm, and he felt slimy palps, like the mouth parts of an octopus, slither over the back of his neck and his scalp.

Justified Ancients of Mu Mu!

I’ve been working on Tunguska, my current WIP, which may be the fifth installment in the shamansland series. Tunguska is its working title because of the famous or infamous meteor burst that flattened part of that region in the early years of the 20th century.

It’s also the home of the original shamans, the ones where the word originated. I’ve been reading Ronald Hutton’s book on the subject, which is subtitled Siberian Spirituality. Of course, the shamans in my books possess magical powers of a different order to those of shamans in this world, but what piqued my interest was the view of the local Evenk people with regard to the Tunguska airburst; they said it was caused by shamans fighting.

That made me sit up a bit! Because most real world shamans, to use the word in its broadest sense, don’t do that sort of thing. They tend to visit the spirit world and to sometimes heal other people. Fighting doesn’t feature.

So I thought I’d make my shamans go back to their roots. The only problem being that someone has hijacked the narrative (clue: some of the characters) and it has now veered suddenly off course and arrived in India, or Inde as it is called in my imaginary world.

This required some rather precipitate research. I was not expecting to go to India, but all of a sudden we arrived in Mumbai and got introduced to the Masters of Shamanism who are, on the whole, terribly old.

Thanks to a friend, at this point a soundtrack presented itself; the KLF, singing Justified and Ancient, with Tammy Wynette. Apart from appealing to my sense of humour, this seemed perfectly suited to the situation where my characters had to visit some ancient Masters (several of whom are women).

In other news, I’ve added a mailing list sign up form to this site, in the form of a pop-up that appears after 5 seconds. I’ll only use it for news relating to my books, and update it from time to time.

Children of the Shaman on sale now!

Children of the Shaman is now on sale from Amazon and Amazon UK. More formats and sites to follow!

Published by Kristell Ink Publications, with cover art by Daniele Serra and internal illustrations by Evelinn Enoksen.

Many thanks to everyone at Kristell Ink, who worked hard to bring this to fruition…

First published by Orbit Books in 2001, Children of the Shaman now appears in a revised edition with new cover art and illustrations. As well as e-books, the novel will be available in hardback and paperback format.

 About Children of the Shaman:

When their aunt is taken ill, thirteen-year old Annat and her brother are sent from their small coastal town to live with their unknown father. Like Annat, Yuda is a Shaman; a Wanderer with magical powers, able to enter other worlds. As Annat learns more about her powers, the children join their father on a remarkable train journey to the frozen north and find a land of mystery and intrigue, threatened by dark forces and beset by senseless murders that have halted construction of a new tunnel. But Annat’s doll, her only remembrance of her dead mother, may hold a dark secret – and when her brother Malchik is kidnapped, Annat and her father must travel onwards to find him before it is too late.

Amazon | Amazon UK | Kristell Ink Publishing

Book Launch: Winter Downs by Jan Edwards

I’m delighted to announce that this blog will be participating in a blog tour by author Jan Edwards, to celebrate the launch of her new crime novel, Winter Downs.

The blog tour begins on Friday, June 2nd on Louise Wise’s blog, and the book launch takes place on Saturday, June 3rd.

Jan will be guesting on this blog on Saturday, June 10th.

See the flyer below for the full details!

winter downs tour date 2

Children of the Shaman launches May 5th

Children of the Shaman

Cover art by Daniele Serra

I’ve just heard some exciting news from my publisher, Kristell Ink: the new edition of Children of the Shaman will be launched on May 5th, and the kindle edition is available for pre-order from Amazon now.

This edition has cover art by the amazing Daniele Serra, and wonderful internal illustrations by artist Evelinn Enoksen.

With many thanks to Sammy H. K. Smith and everyone at Kristell Ink…

Amazon US


Podcast: Joshua Pantalleresco interviews Cora Buhlert and Jessica Rydill

Thanks to Joshua Pantalleresco whose podcast interview with Cora Buhlert and myself has just gone live!

Just Joshing Episode 91: Cora Buhlert and Jessica Rydill
Cora and Jessica are the curators of the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a place for indie authors to post their latest science fiction and fantasy. We talk their work on the site, their books, twitter philosophies and more.

Kristell Ink Rafflecopter and giveaway

My publisher, Kristell Ink, are offering a Rafflecopter giveaway from 13th to 20th April~

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Prizes include a £10 Amazon giftcard and an eBook of your choice.

You can also read about it on Kristell Ink’s Facebook page here: Kristell Ink

In addition, my fellow author Mr Robert Harkess is offering an exclusive giveaway: the eBook of his acclaimed novel Amunet will be free on Amazon from Friday to Monday inclusive. Click on the link below… 

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